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November 13, 2013

TSA Behavior Detection Program Should be Defunded

(WASHINGTON) – Today, the Government Accountability Office released its much anticipated report on the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. The report entitled "Aviation Security: TSA Should Limit Future Funding for Behavior Detection Activities" (GAO-14-159) found, again, that the available evidence and data show that this program cannot be proven effective.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security, released the following statement on the report:

"The report released today by GAO displays what I have been saying for years – that TSA's Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program is fundamentally flawed, cannot be proven effective, and should no longer be funded with taxpayer dollars. Tomorrow, the Committee will have the opportunity to question GAO and TSA Administrator Pistole about this report. I look forward to hearing the Administrator explain how the over $200 million per year currently spent on TSA's failed behavior detection program could be put to use on proven and effective measures to enhance aviation security."

Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA), Ranking Member of the Committee's Transportation Security Subcommittee, added the following statement:

"This report represents a serious indictment of TSA's Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques program. With a single report, GAO has displayed that the science behind the program is non-existent and that the study TSA cites in defending the program was fundamentally flawed. Given TSA's unwillingness to concur with GAO's recommendation that the agency limit funding for the program until it could be proven, it is now up to Congress to take a hard look at reprioritizing the funding for this program. I trust that my colleagues will do just that."

GAO also found:

  • Evidence does not support whether behavioral indicators can be used to identify persons who may pose a risk – and are probably no better than chance.
  • A DHS study to attempt to validate SPOT is flawed, inconclusive, limited and used improper controls.
  • Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) and TSA both admit that behavioral indicators are subjective.

GAO recommends that Congress consider the lack of scientifically validated evidence for using behavioral indicators to identify threats to aviation security when making future funding decisions. DHS did not agree with the recommendation.

REPORT (GAO-14-159)

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Media Contact: Adam Comis at (202) 225-9978